Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What's in a Name?

I have to confess. I skip over names a lot when I read. Well, maybe skip over isn't the right word. I need to be able to pronounce the name in my head. If I can't then I replace it with something that I can.

Maybe someone knows how to pronounce Bakjdloeig instinctively, but it isn't me. That name will be forever known as Bak when I see it. When a book only has a handful of names like that, I gloss over them and enjoy the story. Once we get over a half dozen, then it becomes a distraction. The complexity of the names get in the way of enjoying the story.

At the same time a memorable name that can be easily pronounced helps the story to flow along, and probably more importantly increases the chance that I'll talk about the book to my friend. For independent authors word of mouth accounts for a good bit of the marketing.

As an avid gamer I encounter many folks who like to use name generators. To my gaming friends, I can only say one thing, "Please Stop!". Nothing is more distracting than a name that every player pronounces differently every time they use the name.

If you are a writer, don't even think of using a random name generator. If you can't care enough about a character to come up with a name, then what does that say about the rest of the character's background?

There are a couple of rules that I use when I create character names.

First, I make sure that I can always pronounce it. If I can't pronounce it the same way every time I use the name without having to stop and think, I don't use the name.

Second, unless it is a normal name where the spelling is already commonly accepted, I try to spell the name as phonetically as possible. If the name is pronounced the way it is spelled, then it is easier to remember.

This doesn't guarantee that each person who sees the name will pronounce it the way I would pronounce it, but it does make it easier for each person to keep it consistent in their own mind. The first step in having a memorable character is to have a memorable name.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Spies, Stars and Virtual Games

The other day I had the chance to play a psychic spy escaping from an abandoned terrorist facility on a distance space colony. My companions and I suffered at the hands our abductors until we saw an opening and made a break for it. Unarmed, weakened from our captivity and with no idea where we were we fought, sneaked and ran through the base until we reached the surface and was greeted by the light of day.

That was my first experiencing playing Stars Without Numbers. It is an old school tabletop RPG that anyone who played the early editions of Dungeons & Dragons are likely to be comfortable trying. But, I've played new games before. What made this different is that the game was played online, using a virtual table top (VTT) and none of the players were in the same place.

The VTT we used is from It allows the players to connect to the game via their website and share a common playing area. The Game Master can control the map and determine how much of it the players can see with a Fog of War function. Dice rolling is supported by the system and it includes the options to actually watch the dice roll across the screen. It also supports video chat, which seemed to work pretty well, but we opted not to use it and used Skype instead to reduce some echoing we were experiencing.

I used to run table top games almost weekly, but as the players (and I) moved out of the area it became more difficult to maintain a regular game. With a good VTT it doesn't matter where you players are, you can still get together for a night of gaming.

Now, I just need to figure out what game I want to run.

Monday, November 5, 2012


MUD is the acronym for Multi-User Dungeon. They are online games that are played over a network using a simple text based interface. They are the precursors of modern graphical online games.

MUDs lack the flashy graphics and slick soundtracks that many have come to expect from online games, and some have dismissed them as a dieing breed. But MUDs continue to develop and to attract developers, writers and players. Most importantly players.

The Mud Connector currently lists over 973 games. The forums at Top Mud Sites Top Mud Sites claim over 160 thousand registered members. 

Are all these games playable? Are all these registered users active?

Nah. Many games are in development or closing down. Forum users come and go. And, the numbers don't compete with the million of players on the larger MMO (massively multiplayer online) games, but they aren't zero either.

I've played, wrote and developed for MUDs for over a decade. The amount of time I've spent on all graphical MMO is a small percentage of the time I've spent on my favorite MUDs in the past. I'd like to see MUDs continue to grow, and I encourage growth when I can.  Here are just a few of the things that I think make MUDs special.

  • MUDs are a TEXT based game. It is more like reading a book than watching a movie.
  • MUDs can be created by anyone. You could build your own with community provided tools or you could help others build theirs. Almost everyone who runs a MUD is looking for help.
  • MUDs provide a great opportunity to write. From interacting with other players to writing detailed description of dungeons or monsters. If you want to flex your writing muscles find a MUD that you like and ask them if they would like a builder. Builders are a special class of players who in some cases help run the game, but in all cases, they are the ones who build the game world. They write the descriptions, build the quests and help to tell the story.
  • MUDs don't have millions of players. A really successful game might have a few hundred players on line at a time. A typical successful game might have less than 30. Most have fewer than 10. The smaller games can feel more like a table top RPG if you find a group that you like to play with on a regular basis.
  • MUDs come in many flavors. There are medieval fantasy, science fiction, zombie apocalypse, and pretty much anything you can image from pop culture.
  • MUDS are free. Yep. Some games might charge something, but the majority of games don't and many can't because the license that applies for their game engine forbids them to charge for the service. Don't give in to the hype of the pay to play games. They aren't better because they charge.
  • MUDs can be played everywhere. MAC, PC, Linux worskstation, IOS or android device. A popular client for android phones is called BlowTorch

If you haven't played a MUD, then stop by one of the sites I listed above and give one a try. To get the best experience, download a client that is designed for MUDs. Sure, you could connect from the command line on a windows machine running telnet, by why do that when there are excellent, community supported clients that you can download and use for free. MUSHclient is the one I prefer.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Scorn The First Book of Pandemonium

On October 29th, I lost power as Sandy (the storm, not the squirrel) passed over Pennsylvania. The power remained off until around 11PM on Halloween night. After checking out a few other things I finally logged onto my PC, and at just about Midnight, I discovered this on my Google+ feed.

This is Scorn-Pandemonium. Scorn-Pandemonium is an RPG. It is a dark and twisted RPG, or as the author  says, "Scorn is a game about meat." In other words, it is the perfect gift to find in the pumpkin patch as the witching hour strikes on All Hallow's Eve

This is not a game for the faint of heart. If you have ever watched a horror flick and laughed, then this game might be for you. Or, you might just need counseling. Could be both. And while the rules say you could play a G rated game, the rules themselves are definitely R rated.

I've been gaming for for over 20 years. I have more dice than normal folk will ever understand, but not enough by most gamers' standards, and I think I might have used my 12 sided dice maybe a dozen times. Well, to actually make a meaningful roll anyway. They are pretty cool to stack during a game.

That is about to change. Scorn uses die 12, as many as 18 of them. 18?  Finally my d12 is going to get some love. Fortunately, you don't have to add them together. Just look for the biggest number and compare that to the difficulty of your action. There are some bonus, like for rolling the same number multiple times or for being descriptive in stating how your character acts, but overall the system seems pretty straight forward.

If you succeed, the player sitting on one side of you describes what happens and if you fail, the player on the other side provides the description. All the GM, Story Teller, whatever you want to call them needs to do is assign the difficulty of the action. (Yeah, there is more than just that, but you probably have the idea)

When I first started reading the rules, I laughed a number of times. Then as I continued, the number of "Holy Craps!" far outweighed the chuckles.  There is some dark stuff in there.

The first half of the book is for everyone, Players and Directors (Game Masters), the second half is for the Director. I haven't read the second half yet.

A couple of things stuck with me. First, the players are the story teller far more than the GM is. It seems like it would be easier to get a game going and to keep the players interested with this approach. Second, there is going to be lots of blood and characters are going to die. Horribly. And third, no matter how messed up the characters seem to be, they are still the good guys, well at least in comparison to the bad guys.

I think this would be a great game to play. The rules system seem easy to learn and you could drag a few friends into the pits of hell pretty quickly if you wanted to throw together a game on short notice.

Rafael Chandler has made the rules available on Google Drive for free download. Scorn-Pandemonium.pdf at Google Dive  It is now available at DriveThruRPG and it is still free.

All he asks that if you like his game, you consider buying his novel, Hexcommuincated. A summary of it is available at his web site

Even if you aren't interested in the game, take a look at the book.

The Need to Write

This year I started writing a novel. Before starting my novel, I read a lot about how to prepare to write. Books and articles about creating outlines, developing characters, when to use "its" vs "it's" and so on. Almost all of them had at least one thing in common, to be a better writer, write. Write every day.

That is great advice, and not just for writing. Want to be a better programmer, write code every day. Want to be a better martial artist, practice every day. Seems pretty simple advice.

Before I started work on the novel, I would write a lot. Stuff like technical documents, game contents for MUDs and background stories for RPG. It was always a by product of whatever else I was doing at the time, so it never took center stage. Working on a book has changed that.

Now I write every day. It's not so much a choice as a need. The more I write, the more I want to write. The more ideas I have, the more stories spin off of them. Seems like a good idea. Especially if I want to write a book.

Actually, it is pretty good. I'm enjoying the hell out of it.

There is a downside to it though. It can be a distraction. It can pull away from the time I should be working on the book. To avoid that, I have a time set aside when I work only on the book each day. So far it has been working well, and most of the time when I want to write something, it is about the book, which works out even better.

For anything that doesn't belong to the work on the book, the ideas go into there separate document. Some of it might end up here.

The system is not as organized as I'd like, which at some point I'll need to address, but for now it serves its main purpose. And that is to let me express the idea so I can go back to bed. Which I think I'll do now.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Independent First

It has been almost a year since I received my Kindle Fire as a Christmas present. I'm a programmer and I thought it would be cool to develop some apps for it. It is, but that isn't what I'm going to write about.

What surprised me the most about the Kindle was the books. I knew it was an e-reader and I knew I could read a book on it, but I was so used to the feel of a book in my hand that I figured I'd never be comfortable reading an electronic book.

After all I read PDFs all of the time. How much different could an e-book be?

Boy, talk about being clueless.

I probably had the Kindle for a month before I read a book on it. My expectations were pretty low. I didn't expect to like the experience and had hard a time investing time or money in picking out a book. The first book I got was "DarkAge" by Kirk Warrington (

The book had its share of technical issues, but the story was interesting and I didn't get bogged down on the technical stuff. The story is about gamers who get pulled into their roleplaying game as their characters. As a long time gamer, I always enjoy these types of stories, and not to be disappointed, I enjoyed this story as well.

And most importantly the experience didn't suck. I actually enjoyed it, and I found myself carrying my kindle around so that I could read whenever I had a free moment.

I picked up a few more books. Most of them were by independent authors. Then I stumbled upon Jonathan Moeller's book, "Demonsouled". ( The description started with "For fans of Robert E. Howard, David Gemmel, and Raymond E. Feist, here is a new story of sword and sorcery." That was enough for me. I loved Gemmel's work and had been looking for something like it for sometime.

Like a lot of the books I was reading at that time, "Demonsouled" had some technical issues, but again nothing that detracted from the story, and I found I had a hard time putting it down. Moeller had lots of other books in the series. And of course, I had to read those as well.

I liked the work of Jonathan Moeller enough that it actually got me looking into the whole world of independent authors, and for the most part that is all I read on my Kindle these days. Sure when the next Game of Thrones book comes out, I'll jump on it and pick it up, but that is because I'm already hooked on the series and the author. Now when I'm looking for a new author, I'll look independent first.